Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) took Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to task Thursday for the Obama administration’s call for a massive increase in transportation spending.
Given the record deficit this year, Sessions said he was surprised to see Obama’s 2012 budget call for an 11 percent spending increase and a 9.5 percent increase for the Education and Energy departments, respectively.
Sessions noted, ahead of LaHood’s testimony on the request, that the Obama budget calls for an unspecified new tax to raise $435 billion to pay for the new six-year, $556-billion infrastructure build-out.
“I just have to say that is unrealistic,” Sessions said. “If you can’t tell us what kind of tax this is, I think there is zero chance of us passing such a tax as this.
“This is another huge gimmick in the budget,” Sessions said later. “This kind of Washington logic has put us in the financial crisis we are in. We cannot continue it. We cannot continue to authorize spending based on a tax that is not going to be collected, probably.”
Sessions asked for suggestions for the tax, and LaHood did not offer any.
LaHood said “we want to work with Congress on that.” He said Obama is not in favor of raising the gas tax in a “lousy economy.”
The new tax would be necessary, in part, because the gasoline tax used to fund the highway trust fund is collecting less revenue than projected due to increasing fuel efficiency.
The exchange between Sessions and LaHood degenerated into a shouting match, with the Transportation secretary emphasizing that infrastructure can be improved and jobs created while paying down the debt.
Sessions shouted back that the Obama budget doesn't pay down a "dime" of the debt.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) countered Sessions by saying, "I think improving infrastructure is more important than tax breaks for billionaires. My colleague may disagree, but that is my view."
Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said U.S. infrastructure is now grade D, but called the funding shortfall a “harsh reality.”
LaHood said other Obama cuts make room for the increase in infrastructure investment, but the plan is necessary to reduce unemployment.
“The president recognizes this is a jobs bill,” he argued.